If anything shook the ground near Tiger Stadium, it was previously unbeaten Auburn’s thud.
The 35-21 score of sixth-ranked LSU’s victory doesn’t resonate like an ugly blowout, and Auburn showed heart to keep rallying after falling behind by three touchdowns three times.
But this game was nothing like the 7-6 thriller of Oct. 8, 1988, which LSU fans celebrated with a video montage Saturday, and Auburn was not the hopeful vision that came through this season’s first three weeks.
Yes, Auburn came a long way from its 3-9 form of 2012 just to get to Baton Rouge 3-0, but the Tigers left Death Valley looking like they still have far to go.
One of the hallmarks of Auburn’s sharp decline after winning the 2010 national championship was blowout losses to best teams on the Tigers’ schedule in 2011 and 2012. Once again Saturday, Auburn looked out of its depth against one of the SEC’s elite teams, at least until garbage time.
Nick Marshall, who showed clear progress through his first three starts as a FBS quarterback against Washington State, Arkansas State and Mississippi State, went backward Saturday.
He had 270 yards in total offense but accounted for three turnovers and no touchdowns.
His overthrow into coverage resulted in an easy interception for LSU safety Craig Loston.
Marshall’s underthrows slowed a promising drive on the game’s first possession and contributed to an injury to wide receiver Jaylon Denson, who slipped on the wet turf while trying to stop and reach back. Denson came up holding his left knee and was carted off the field.
That first possession ended with Marshall being charged with a fumble on a bad handoff exchange on fourth down.
Marshall had his moments, all in the second half. He hit a 52-yard bomb to Sammie Coates to set up Auburn’s second touchdown, but Auburn was down 28-7 by that point.
Marshall hit another 42-yarder to Coates to set up Cameron Artis-Payne’s 12-yard touchdown run, but Auburn still trailed 35-21.
Heavy rain might have played a role in Marshall’s accuracy woes in the first half. Frustration might have played a role in his interception on a forced deep throw into coverage while on the run.
But Marshall was bad before he was good, and he was bad enough to make his good moments not matter. His outing was a step back.
Even when Marshall and the Auburn offense made good things happen in the second half, Auburn’s bend-but-don’t-break defense broke. LSU answered Auburn’s first two touchdowns with touchdown drives of its own, covering 75 and 81 yards to maintain a three-score lead.
That doesn’t cover LSU’s gashing Auburn up the middle in the first half.
Jeremy Hill broke a 49-yard touchdown run on LSU’s first possession. On LSU’s second possession, he broke clean up the middle and went untouched, 10 yards into the end zone.
Hill ran downhill with 152 of his 184 rushing yards in the first half and left Auburn staring uphill at a 21-0 halftime deficit.
And if Auburn’s offensive and defensive woes weren’t bad enough, normally reliable punter Steven Clark dropped a snap in the rain to set up Hill’s second touchdown.
It was that kind of night for Auburn, the kind against good teams that became all too familiar over the past two seasons.
Because of that, this wouldn’t be another night for LSU and Auburn to lift Tiger Stadium into seismic folklore. Instead, Auburn showed itself to still be a team with lots of cracks.
Sports columnist Joe Medley: 256-235-3576, firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter @jmedley_star.